Israelis sit on the shoulders of other participants as they wave flags at the annual Jerusalem Day march, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, June 5, 2024.

Thousands of Israeli nationalists marched Wednesday, June 5, through annexed east Jerusalem as authorities deployed police and tensions with Palestinians soared nearly eight months into the Gaza war. Police said 18 people suspected of various offenses including assault had been arrested.

The so-called Jerusalem Day flag march commemorates the Israeli army’s capture in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war of the city’s eastern sector home to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which Jews call the Temple Mount.

Thousands of Jewish nationalists, including far-right activists, marched through predominantly Arab neighborhoods of the Old City, waving Israeli national flags, dancing and occasionally shouting inflammatory or racist slogans.

From early on Wednesday, police set up barriers near Damascus Gate after announcing plans to deploy more than 3,000 officers during the day. Most shops in the Old City were closed before the march started as streets slowly emptied of Palestinians and filled with young Israelis, some of whom carried weapons. For many Palestinians, the route through predominantly Arab neighborhoods is seen as a deliberate provocation. The Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Haaretz journalist ‘attacked’

Some far-right marchers scuffled with a journalist in the sector’s Muslim Quarter, according to Agence France-Presse. Many threw empty water bottles at reporters covering the event at Damascus Gate, with some of them taken away by police. Israeli newspaper Haaretz said one of its journalists had been “attacked.”

Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir present at the march, saying that he wanted to “send a message to Hamas” that “Jerusalem is ours.” On Tuesday, Ben Gvir had told the army radio that he and fellow marchers intended to march to the super-sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The site known to Jews as the Temple Mount is the most sacred site to them. They are allowed to visit at certain times but not to pray.

Police said they expected the march to end later on Wednesday at its normal terminus, the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray. “The march is not expected to pass through the Temple Mount or the Temple Mount gates,” a police statement said. Police said they were deploying officers throughout the city to “maintain public order, safety and secure property, as well as direct traffic” during the march.

In 2021, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem as the march began, triggering a 12-day conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group that also saw Jewish-Arab violence in Israeli cities.

Le Monde with AFP